The Real Salt Lake organization will likely make an important change in the next two years.
The alteration will affect the RSL first team, but more so the reserve squad and the fans. Although the decision is still in infancy, Real Salt Lake is considering bringing a USL Pro side to Utah, which would serve as a developmental team for the Claret-and-Cobalt.
“I do think that there's a consensus that we want a kind of farm system like the NHL or Major League Baseball,” Real Salt Lake general Manager Garth Lagerwey said. “Which means, at some point you'd have a stand-alone reserve team with separate staff and separate players.”
Lagerwey and the rest of the RSL upper management were challenged by MLS to begin considering an ideal reserve league. This coincides with Major League Soccer's partnership with the United Soccer League that occurred in January 2013. This agreement vowed to integrate the two leagues' schedules and eventually include affiliations between teams in MLS and the USL.
The alliance is expected to greatly increase the overall development of players and the interest in American soccer.
“This partnership represents the first step in a long-term alliance between MLS and USL Pro to connect domestic professional soccer through a system that benefits player development, competition and the overall business of our sport,” MLS executive vice president of player relations and competition Todd Durbin said.
Although it is almost certain Real Salt Lake will soon have a USL Pro team in place of the current club that plays in the MLS reserve league, the question at large remains the location of the new contingent. In order to justify sprouting a USL Pro team in Salt Lake, RSL management needs to have a certain amount of interest from the fans.
“If the people come out here and support it, then that's obviously a positive indication to us that we can make some money here and go that direction,” Lagerwey said.
Earlier this season, interest in the second team was tested when a reserve laden RSL squad hosted BYU, the state's PDL side, at Rio Tinto Stadium. As a surprise to many players, 6,335 fans filled the stands that evening to watch RSL hold off the cougars 1-0.
The attendance at this match was within the range of interest the RSL front office desires to see before going forward with the United Soccer League prospect. Lagerwey said both Portland and Seattle have drawn between 5,000 and 10,000 fans to reserve games and getting attendance within that scope would help persuade Real Salt Lake management to pursue this opportunity.
“That's not a scientific benchmark, that's not a break-even mathematical benchmark,” Lagerwey said. “But if we don't have that, then I would say it's tough to go forward because that's kind of the minimum you need to think about, 'OK could we do it, is this an option for us?'”
On Monday evening, the RSL reserves will host the first of a home-and-home series with USL Pro team Phoenix FC and the attendance at the event will definitely affect RSL's pursuit of this opportunity.
Whitney O'Bannon is a new media sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow on Twitter at @whitney_oban.
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